Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, February 29, 2012 at 10:52 PM
Easily the hottest mid major program of the past several weeks has been Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Conference (which begins its postseason tournament Thursday Night). They’ve played so well that they’re getting legitimate run as a Final Four threat with a 26-4 record, a poll ranking in the mid-teens, and computer rankings near the top 10.
We can’t argue at the moment. They really have been playing fantastic ball. And, so many other top programs have stumbled around a bit that you can’t rule out the Shockers as “this year’s Butler.” Of course, the problems with that are:
*They may be peaking too early.
*They may be reading too many press clippings about themselves.
*Butler wasn’t taken seriously as a threat, which is what made them so dangerous!
If Wichita State enjoys too much too soon, they’ll be watching the Sweet 16 on TV with the rest of us. We’re anxiously waiting to see what their mindset is in the Missouri Valley tournament. If the Shockers are breathing fire, then we’ll be at the head of a long list of analysts touting their chances in the Big Dance. But, if they start to show signs of complacency, then we’ll be the first to wave a red flag.
For now, they get the benefit of the doubt. Let’s see what Joe Lunardi thinks of Wichita State and the Missouri Valley in his more recent Bracketology report…
MISSOURI VALLEY BRACKETOLOGY
Wichita State: 5th seed
Creighton: 6th seed
If you’ve been following college hoops closely of late, you know that those look pretty nutso. These teams are not even at the moment. Wichita State is playing at a much higher level, and absolutely crushed Creighton in Omaha not too long ago. We’ll see in a moment if the computer ratings that take the full season into account agree. Come tourney time, we don’t expect Wichita to be seeded this low…and we think Creighton is more likely to be further down the ladder.
Those are the only two teams this year who are locked into the Dance. A third team can win their way in by taking the Missouri Valley tournament of course. Nobody else is within a stone’s throw of the bubble. The reason for that can be seen in the standings below. There was so much parity beneath the top two that everyone beat each other up!
MISSOURI VALLEY STANDINGS
Wichita State 16-2
Illinois State 9-9
Northern Iowa 9-9
Missouri State 9-9
Indiana State 8-10
Southern Illinois 5-13
Wasn’t that the tie-breaker from hell in the middle of the pack?! Spots three through seven all tied with the same records, and the eighth spot was just a game out. That could set up a very entertaining tournament with coin flip games running day and night. That’s actually the norm for “Arch Madness” in St. Louis. Those elimination games will be entertaining…and that strong middle will certainly have a chance to catch Wichita or Creighton napping in a semifinal game.
We should note that it’s been a great sign for quality in past years when a team at the top DOMINATED a conference that had so many good teams. It’s a lot easier to go 16-2 in a league slate when the bottom four or five teams are all horrible. If you’re 16-2, and 7th place is 9-9, you’ve been doing well against a competitive schedule.
Obviously it’s hard to untie a bunch of teams at 9-9 when you’re trying to handicap the games. Let’s see what Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin have to say about the Missouri Valley. Their numbers have pretty much been in lockstep so far through this process. Their computer rankings should help untangle things a bit.
Wichita State (8 in Pomeroy, 11 in Sagarin)
Creighton (39 in Pomeroy, 30 in Sagarin)
Northern Iowa (80 in Pomeroy, 73 in Sagarin)
Missouri State (93 in Pomeroy, 84 in Sagarin)
Illinois State (106 in Pomeroy, 99 in Sagarin)
Evansville (109 in Pomeroy, 114 in Sagarin)
Indiana State (138 in Pomeroy, 129 in Sagarin)
Drake (147 in Pomeroy, 135 in Sagarin)
Southern Illinois (218 in Pomeroy, 216 in Sagarin)
Bradley (266 in Pomeroy, 252 in Sagarin)
Yup…quite some distance between Northern Iowa and Missouri State at the top of the 9-9 hunk, and Drake down at the bottom. These are still respectable teams in the top 150 nationally who are knotted up. But, there are some differences you can look for on the floor.
To us, the thing that jumps out is the difference between Wichita State and Creighton. Do THOSE rankings look like #5 and #6 seeds? The computers would have Wichita State as a solid three with an outside shot to crack the #2 line. Meanwhile Creighton is down around the 8-9 area, which makes a lot more sense to us. Maybe these teams will meet in the championship game…and Creighton will change our minds. But…we saw what happened in the most recent head-to-head…we saw the BracketBusters where Creighton barely beat Long Beach State at home while Wichita State was drowning Davidson on the road. Lunardi shouldn’t have them that close together.
Now let’s move to the conference tournament. Note that all games in the event will be played in St. Louis at the traditional tourney site.
THURSDAY’S FIRST ROUND (efficiency rankings)
Southern Illinois (9) (231 on offense, 207 on defense)
Indiana State (8) (178 on offense, 107 on defense)
This is always the spot of death in the MVC brackets because it’s a night game…and the winner has to play in the early game the next day against the #1 seed. It’s better to finish 10th than 8th in this conference! We often see a game lacking motivation from both teams in this spot…because the outlook is so bleak for the week. Indiana State has the better stats (remember that “efficiency” is scoring adjusted for tempo and schedule strength). Southern Illinois has better proximity in terms of possible crowd support.
Bradley (10) (303 on offense, 180 on defense)
Drake (7) (197 on offense, 100 on defense)
Bradley really fell off the map this year because of an abysmal offense. Can they play enough defense to keep this one interesting? Drake really got the short end of the tie-breaker since they’re the only 9-9 team that has to play the first day. The computers show that was probably the fair result though.
Southern Illinois-Indiana State Winner
Wichita State (1) (7 on offense, 20 on defense)
Historically an easy game for the top seed, whoever that is. The tired team often fades in the second half even if they can hang tough in the first half. Remember that if you do in-game wagering in Las Vegas.
Northern Iowa (5) (82 on offense, 97 on defense)
Illinois State (4) (93 on offense, 125 on defense)
Best matchup of the quarterfinals given the stat breakdown. These are very similar teams, and Northern Iowa actually grades out as the slightly better side even if they had the lesser seed. The winner is surely capable of making life interesting for Wichita in the semi’s…as long as this quarterfinal game isn’t too brutal a war.
Creighton (2) (6 on offense, 190 on defense)
That poor ranking on defense is going to be the thing that knocks Creighton out of the Dance in our view. They were really exposed in that home loss to Wichita State. Once you get a look at Dance-only teams in a couple of weeks…a ranking of 190th is going to look really bad. You can’t count on shooting well every game. Creighton MUST do that to win. Maybe Creighton won’t even reach the MVC finals.
Missouri State (6) (117 on offense, 81 on defense)
Evansville (3) (64 on offense, 161 on defense)
The computers have Missouri State as the better side, even though they have the inferior seed because of the tie-break process. Missouri State’s defense is the best in the lower half of the brackets. We’ll surely be keeping that in mind.
Naturally, the event plays out Saturday and Sunday with the semifinals and finals in the traditional bracket structure. The championship game will be televised by CBS at 2 p.m. ET on Sunday.
It took an extra day…but MARCH IS FINALLY HERE!
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